Authors: R.J. Ellory
Dedicated to all those who asked questions
and never feared the answers . . .
Psychological Fitness Evaluation 19-409
Monday, August 4, 1958—15:38 p.m.
Transcription by SA Paul Erickson
Q. You understand why you are here, Special Agent Travis?
A. I do, sir, yes.
Q. Take a seat, or would you prefer the couch, perhaps?
A. The chair is fine.
Q. Very good. So let’s begin with some personal details. How old are you?
Q. Sexually or emotionally involved with a member of the opposite sex?
Q. Very good. Tell me about your personal background, your childhood.
A. The fact that my mother killed my father. Is that what you want me to talk about?
Q. We need to address that area, of course, but we don’t need to start with that.
A. Well, if we need to talk about it, then we should talk about it. I don’t think there’s anything else of great significance.
Q. Very well. We shall begin there, then. You were fifteen at the time, correct?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Tell me what happened, as best you can recall…
From initial observation, subject is emotionally restricted. Where there should be significant emotional response and activity, there appears to be little. Such an affected disassociation is not uncommon in cases where severe mental and emotional trauma has been experienced in formative years. Subject’s answers appear somewhat practiced and formal, as if he has constructed a means by which he can deal with his emotions. Divergence from that construct is unsafe and would open the subject to alternate interpretations and unpredictable responses. That is unproven and untested territory, and therefore—to the subject—needs to be avoided. Conversely, he may simply have adopted a manner he believes best suited to such interviews, in this way presenting as professional a persona as possible. Travis evidences an inability to engage and empathize with others, though he does not see this as a failing, certainly not in his professional capacity. This is not uncommon in orphans, into which category the subject could be loosely placed.
In light of his proposed promotion to lead field operative, I am erring toward the view that this sense of disassociation and emotional distance might not actually hinder his work, but rather simplify it. Emotional engagement with suspects under investigation has proven to be an obstacle in many instances, and I understand that Section Chief Gale is keen to avoid utilization of field operatives who demonstrate an inability to remain wholly objective.
Clearance is granted for active duty per the cover memorandum of Monday, August 4, 1958 (Reference: Psychological Fitness Evaluation 19-409)
Originator: SA Raymond Carvahlo
Recipient: SSA Tom Bishop
Re: Mandate (Psych Eval 19-409)
—SA Michael Travis has been granted clearance for active duty.
Originator: SSA Tom Bishop
Recipient: SA Raymond Carvahlo
—Acknowledged. Please submit copies of all interview transcriptions to the office of Assistant Special Agent in Charge Monroe, copies also to Section Chief Gale and Executive Assistant Director Bradley Warren.
COMM EXCHANGE TERMINATED 08.04.58 AT 17:42 p.m. BY SSA TOM BISHOP
“This is an unusual case, Agent Travis, and we don’t quite know what we’re dealing with, to be honest.”
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Tom Bishop stood just inside the doorway of his office. He leaned against the frame, an unlit cigarette in one hand, a plain manila folder in the other.
“You’ve been in the club a little more than eight years now, Travis, and it’s time we threw you to the lions.”
Bishop took a seat at his desk. He set the manila file down and then lit his cigarette.
“Twenty-eight U.S.C. 540A0, Violent Crimes Against Interstate Travelers sort of covers it, we think… but we’re not so sure. We’re dealing with a murder; that much we know. However, all we have right now is a small-town sheriff with a dead body, and he’s in need of our help.”
Michael Travis shifted in his chair. His neck was a little sore. Occasioned, perhaps, by the invasive nature of the previous day’s meeting with the Bureau psychologist, he had not slept well. He tried not to think of his own past, and he certainly did not care much to discuss it, especially with strangers. The conversation with the psychologist had required that he focus his attention toward things that he would have much preferred to remain dormant. However, his humorless, perhaps even
less performance, had evidently satisfied the psychologist, for he knew he’d been given clearance for this assignment. Nevertheless, recollections of his mother’s execution, the death of Esther Faulkner, other such events from his past, had left him unsettled, and—in among all of the long-forgotten feelings and thoughts and conclusions—there had been one thing that had stayed with him. The fear that he
perhaps his father’s son, that the tendency to violence
in the blood, a hereditary relay, if you like, and that the baton had been passed.
Also Travis had dreamed again, the same dream that had plagued him for years—the shadow of an unknown man, a cracked and arid field, the sound of a laughing crow. Nothing more nor less.
Notwithstanding his current frame of mind, he also knew how far he had come. He was thirty-one years of age, he had an apartment in Olathe, just outside of Kansas City, eight years of dedicated and exemplary service in the Federal Bureau of Investigation behind him, and was about to be given his first lead assignment. Though he had known such a thing was inevitable, it was still both challenging and significant.
“There is, literally, a carnival in town,” Tom Bishop said. “The town is called Seneca Falls, not to be confused with Seneca up on 63 near the state line. This is a small town at the edge of the Flint Hills, sits between El Dorado and Eureka, just to the east of I-35. You’ve heard of it?”
“No, sir, I haven’t.”
“Oh, by the way, you can skip the ‘sir’ business now, seeing as how they’ve seen fit to give you a senior special agent rank for this one.”
Travis’s chest swelled. “Really?”
“Oh, come on… You knew it was gonna happen any day now.” Bishop smiled, reached out his hand.
Travis reached back and they shook.
“Welcome to the executive washrooms, Senior Special Agent Travis.”
Travis smiled. “Heard rumor you have real hand towels in there, sir.”
Bishop laughed dryly. “Just a scurrilous rumor, Travis, I assure you. SSA is probationary, of course. You still have to earn your stripes on the frontline, but I don’t think anyone has any doubt in your ability to run an investigation of this nature, strange though it is.”
“As I said, we are dealing with a carnival, Michael, and not figuratively speaking. We have a real-life honest-to-God traveling carnival with gypsies, sideshow freaks and the like, and right now it appears that someone within it may be responsible for the death of a man. From what little we have, the victim appears to be a non-national. We don’t know for sure. We have very sketchy information from the local police, but due to the simple fact that the travelers came in from Oklahoma, and as soon as they arrived, a dead guy happens to show up, we are treating it as a potential federal case. It might not be. It might be something else entirely. All we know is that the locals are out of their depth and that they’ve asked us for help.”
“You said something about U.S.C. 540A0, Violent Crimes Against Interstate Travelers, but what you’re telling me suggests it might be a violent crime
an interstate traveler.”
“Well, maybe, if this guy had nothing to do with the carnival itself, but the Seneca Falls sheriff says that there are a whole bunch of foreigners down there, and this guy might have been one of them. If he was killed by one of his own people, then it becomes a federal matter.”
“I see. So it’s a fact-finding operation, first and foremost. If I conclude that neither the victim nor perpetrator had crossed state lines, then surely it would cease to be a federal concern?”
Bishop shrugged his shoulders. “We shall make that adjudication as and when we have sufficient information. I know that Chief Gale works very much with a view that once the Bureau has begun something, it should not leave the matter unresolved. Sort of like the fire department going out to a fire and then deciding not to extinguish it, if you know what I mean. Even if it does turn out to be nonfederal, Chief Gale may just wish it closed up for public relations reasons.”
“Yes, makes perfect sense.”
“So, you better get your bags packed.”
“When was the body found?”
“That’s all in the file here,” Bishop said, sliding the manila folder across the desk.
“And do I take a second?”
“No. As you said, right now it’s nothing more than fact-finding. If it turns out to be a full-blown federal investigation, then we’ll send a second, but for the moment, you’re on your own.”
“And when am I leaving?”
“Oh, around about last Saturday, I should reckon.”
“Which, presumably, was when the body was found,” Travis replied matter-of-factly.
“That’s correct,” Bishop said, and made to rise from his desk. He paused then, as if struck by a secondary thought, and resumed his seat. “One other thing.”
“When you get back, we need to talk about something else.”
“Mr. Hoover, as you know, is a dedicated Freemason.” Bishop smiled. “As am I, as is Chief Gale. In fact, it would be fair to say that there is a direct relationship between one’s active participation in the humanitarian and philanthropic activities of the Freemasonry fellowship and the speed and certainty with which one ascends the ranks in the Bureau. Did you know that George Washington was a Master Mason?”
“No, sir, I did not.”
“Well, Mr. Hoover has been a Master Mason since 1920. He has accumulated a vast collection of medals and awards for his work.” Bishop paused for a moment. “Do you know anything of the Freemasons?”
“A little, sir, yes. I knew of Mr. Hoover’s devotion to the organization, of course. I understand that he was granted a very senior office just a few years ago.”
“Well, this is something we will discuss in greater detail upon your return. Meanwhile, if you have a chance, do secure some literature on this. You might find it useful.”
Bishop walked to the door and opened it for Travis.
“Do us proud, Senior Special Agent Travis,” Bishop said.
Travis gathered together a few things from his office, took the car, and headed back to his apartment outside of Olathe. Here he studied what little information was available in the file that Bishop had given him, a photograph of the main drag of this Seneca Falls, photos of a somewhat disheveled carnival troupe, canvas tents and the like. There were pictures of vehicles, registration numbers, and then the dead man himself. As Bishop had said, the man was evidently a non-national. There was something Germanic, even Slavic about his features, a heaviness that belied mainland European influence. Beyond that, a few notes had been taken—names of people who were part of this traveling circus, but that was all. It was scant information, but then, the lack of information was the reason for Travis’s dispatch.
He packed some clean clothes into an overnight bag—a second suit, a pair of shoes, three clean shirts, some heavy boots, a flashlight, other such things he considered needful. It was as he was packing that he glanced over at the bookcase. Somewhere, he had a volume on the Freemasons. Perhaps he should take it with him, study it somewhat. He could not find it, but what he did find was something else of significance. A copy of
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck. Travis had bought it for Esther, Christmas of 1943. She had loved the book, though Travis himself had never read it. It was the only thing he had kept from the Grand Island house they’d shared. There was the book, and—more important—there was the letter within. That letter, given to him by Esther with the entreaty that he not read it until after she was dead, had now remained unopened for more than eight years. He believed he would never open it, had in fact come close to just burning it several times, but had always stayed his hand. He knew what it would say, that she was sorry for everything, that perhaps it had all been a mistake, that she was to blame. But that was not true, and Travis knew it. It had
been a mistake, and she was
to blame. Between the lines of that letter would be his own unwritten confession, his own guilt, his own heartbreak. He was the one who’d betrayed her, he was the one who’d left her, and had he not done so, he knew she might still be alive. Perhaps she might have died anyway, but the ghost of what could have been still haunted him. No, he was not ready to relive those emotions. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.
Travis returned the book to the shelf, Esther’s letter safely within it, and hurriedly packed the remainder of his things. He knew he was feeling such a weight of loss because of the interviews with the psychologist. Memories had been stirred up, memories that would have been better left just exactly where they’d been put to rest.
Travis started out just a handful of minutes before midday. It was a dogleg run, southwest along 35 for a hundred miles to Emporia, then south-southwest for another fifty or so into Seneca Falls. He stopped for lunch at a roadside diner outside of Emporia, took a BLT, a cup of coffee, a slice of blueberry pie, and he was back on the road by quarter past two. Traffic was sparse and he made good time, reaching his destination close to half past three.
Travis’s first impression of Seneca Falls was of a relatively nondescript and characterless town, much as had been indicated by the one photo in the file. The main drag, at the end of which he found the Sheriff’s Department office—itself a low-slung plain-looking building, just one story high, painted a kind of off-white that had not weathered well at all—was populated by a dozen or more of the regular outlets and establishments one would find in such a place. A barbershop, two saloons (the Tavern and the Travelers’ Rest), a drugstore, two hotels (the Seneca Falls Hotel and the McCaffrey Hotel), the Seneca Falls Bank, a general mercantile, a grain and seed store, a car showroom, a tractor and farm machinery franchise, a post office, and a small bus depot that appeared not to have seen a bus for some considerable time.
Travis pulled up in front of the Sheriff’s Department office and got out of the car. He looked back along the street, feeling at once both anachronistic and strangely unwelcome, and yet he shrugged off the feeling. He did not need to like the place or the people; the people did not need to like him; he was here to do a job, and do the job he would. This was his first lead assignment, and it would be textbook, professional, flawless in its execution. This would be the first of a great many exemplary assignments, of that he was sure. He had no doubt that his reports would go through Bishop, Gale, and Warren, all the way to Mr. Tolson and Mr. Hoover. The director was keeping track of all that happened in the unit, and what happened here meant a great deal to Travis, not only for his career, but also personally.
Before Travis had a chance to lock the car and make his way up the steps to the front door of the building, the sheriff appeared.
Travis introduced himself, felt a certain pride in giving his new title of
The sheriff’s greeting was at once welcoming and unaffected, almost at variance to the impression Travis had received upon arrival. Travis had suspected that there might be a degree of resistance to federal involvement, but there was certainly no indication of this in the sheriff’s manner.
Sheriff Charles Rourke was—at a guess—in his late thirties or early forties. He was slim of build, but broad in the shoulders. He had the kind of open and uncomplicated features found so predominantly in the Midwest, at once trusting without being naive, perhaps believing that other folks should always be afforded the benefit of the doubt until there was reason enough to afford them something else.
“Charles Rourke,” the sheriff said, “though everyone here knows me as Chas.”
Travis shook hands with Rourke. “Here to assist you with your situation,” he said.
“Well, that was fast. You guys are really on the ball, eh? Glad to have you, Agent Travis, and don’t let anyone else suggest otherwise,” Rourke said. “Folks around here can be a mite suspicious of strangers, and they sure as hell weren’t happy when this crowd of gypsies and freaks showed up, but they’re a good sort in the main.” Rourke nodded back and to the left as if indicating the location of the
gypsies and freaks
“The carnival people,” Travis said.
“Hell,” Rourke replied, “that’ll do for want of a better description. Looks like something from the end of last century if you ask me, kind of thing you’d see show up around the edges of the County Fair. Kind of thing we’d encourage to move on, if you know what I mean.”
“When did they arrive, exactly?” Travis asked.
“You come on in,” Rourke said. “Let’s get you a desk and a chair and a cup of coffee and whatever else you need, and then I can give you a full rundown of what’s been goin’ on.”
“Appreciated, Sheriff,” Travis said.